GOVERNMENT and Zifa have declared that Rufaro Stadium will NOT be re-opened for topflight football until all relevant stakeholders have approved the renovations being carried out, without consultation, by the Harare City Council.
Harare mayor, Jacob Mafume had planned to commission Rufaro Stadium on Thursday and some guests, who included the Zifa Stabilisation Committee chairman Lincoln Mutasa, were at the venue before later being dispersed by police.
Both the secretary for Provincial Affairs and Devolution in the Office of the President and Cabinet (Harare Metropolitan Province), Tafadzwa Muguti and the Zifa committee responsible for stadium inspection and approval say Harare has been carrying out renovations on their own without engaging them.
The refurbishments at the facility are clearly still a long way from being complete, making the venue unusable for public events, especially topflight football whose stadium requirements are spelt out and monitored by CAF and Fifa.
By the time guests had gathered, Council workers were still busy working on dressing rooms, toilets, clearing debris and attending to other facilities which were less than 50 percent complete on the day the local authority had committed to handing over the stadium to football authorities.
It also turned out the Harare City officials did not follow laid down procedures consistent with the holding of such events as the commissioning of a stadium, leading to the intervention by authorities of the Harare Metropolitan Province.
Police on Thursday explained the reasons behind their dispersing of officials, who had gathered at Rufaro amid light drizzles for the commissioning.
“With regards to media queries on the status of Rufaro Stadium in Harare and the issue of maintenance of law and order, the ZRP reiterates that it stands guided by the Permanent Secretary for Provincial Affairs and Devolution for Harare Province as he is the one in charge of Government and local authorities programmes in the city,” said ZRP spokesperson, Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi.
Despite the hurried bid by the Harare Mayor to commission Rufaro, the stadium has not been homologated by the ZIFA First Instance Board (FIB) and will not be sanctioned to host any PSL games until it passes the test.
Harare City sources also indicate that there has been no technical inspection done by the municipal engineers themselves amid revelations that it has turned out to be a political game.
Acting ZIFA secretary Xolisani Gwesela on Wednesday wrote to Harare town clerk Engineer Hosiah Chisango advising him that Rufaro will not host any Premier League matches until the football authorities inspect the facility and approves its use.
“The Zimbabwe Football Association has leant through media reports of the commissioning of Rufaro Stadium slated for 10 August 2023.
“ZIFA would like to categorically state that the stadium is still not homologated to host any Premier Soccer League matches.
“The council is advised to ensure that the stadium is inspected before hosting any topflight league matches. As we await your feedback, please dear Town Clerk accept our sincere and warmest regards,” wrote Gwesela.
Muguti said the rehabilitation of Rufaro was supposed to be done under an inter-ministerial taskforce which looks at the maintenance of sporting facilities.
“Government’s position is very clear. We have an inter-ministerial taskforce which looks at the upkeep and the maintenance of stadiums, including the design and the construction of public infrastructure and all local authorities are supposed to work within this structure.
“The City of Harare was advised through my office last month to please ensure that if they are building Rufaro or are renovating Rufaro they stand guided through the Ministry of Youth Sport, Arts and Recreation.
“Through Honourable Kirsty Coventry, as well as the Sports and Recreation Commission, they are the one who oversee (issues of stadiums and sports amenities).
“So as it is, building or renovating a stadium is not a one man’s job. It’s a collective effort of all stakeholders. Consulting with ZIFA or PSL is not enough. It needs to be certified and the certification is under the jurisdiction of the Ministry, and this has since been communicated.
“This City of Harare since it embarked on this massive and quite appreciative motive to renovate Rufaro stadium they did a fundamental mistake that they have been working by themselves.
“They have not been checking for the standards with all the other stakeholders. Up until now there has not been other government arm that have been involved in the renovation of Rufaro except of the Mayor’s office and the Town Clerk’s office and as it is the health, safety and security concerns that may be raised by other arms of government need to be addressed.”
“I have had extensive discussions with the mayor that they need to form a committee and to allow other Government departments to visit Rufaro Stadium and be able to stand guided on some of the things that they need to do.
“Essentially, there is no politics involved but this is something that we have written to them over and over. I have met with the Town Clerk on several occasions and we have made the position clear….
“Zimbabwe is not built in isolation, neither will our local authorities be built in isolation. The sense of accountability is on our shoulders. Should there be an accident today of some of safety challenges, the general public will point fingers to Government.
“The whole of government therefore needs to work together, as well as with the City of Harare and everyone to ensure that our sports facilities meet the recommended standards.
“As we are all aware Zimbabwean football has been under suspension by FIFA for a year or so and the great news is that we are now back to playing international football and as such we are not going to compromise.
“Our stadiums need to be built to the international best standards and this to the National Sports Stadium, which will also go through it’s processes.
“We need to revamp Gwanzura stadium, Chibuku stadium, all the stadiums in the country needs to meet international standards and I am happy that the City of Harare has seen it fit to meet such standards but once again you cannot be the builder and the certifier of your own project especially if it is public infrastructure.”
Rufaro has been closed for the past four years due to the lack of maintenance and inefficiency in the running of the facility by the Harare City Council.
The stadium, which once hosted international matches, has failed a series of inspections by CAF. The continental football mother body’s requirements are a bit stringent.
In order for us to host international matches, the authorities have to install bucket seats (Rufaro needs about 34 000 seats), electronic gates, acceptable media facilities, functional toilets, good ablution facilities, among other things.
The pitch has quite improved but the changing rooms are still a long way. One of the changing rooms is now at the furnishing stage while the other is still covered in debris. The match officials’ changing rooms are also still being attended to.
While notable progress has been seen, especially in sprucing up the car park area and the outside perimeter wall, Rufaro was far from being ready to open its gates.
Mafume admitted the proposed re-opening was premature.
“A stadium is never done. Right now if you go to Real Madrid, half of it is closed. It’s being repaired,” he said.
“There are certain things in construction that get used before they are completed. Part of you opening it is also stress-testing it so that you are also able to use it.
“I think even the World Cup stadiums, if we are to be honest with ourselves, some of them were done after the second round, some of them were finished for the semi-finals and so forth.
“What we are doing is we have to work in tandem with our regulators. They have reached this stage, they have told us ‘come, present the stadium to us, we will do the furnishings together with you whilst we use the stadium.’
“As far as we are concerned and the work that can be seen by everyone, that turf is done and football can be played, the toilets are in use but we are making them nicer. We are putting tiles and cisterns which are already on site; which will take 48 hours.
“The parking is there; you can park. There are even worse places where people are parking cars in town. The grand stands are there. Everything for a stadium is there.
“We will do the finer touches together with the stakeholders but the cheering for soccer would have begun at Rufaro Stadium and we were presenting it to the citizens and the media.”
He said the Council was funding the project. Mafume also revealed Harare City Council were contemplating lease agreements with Harare giants CAPS United and Dynamos.
“This whole project has been done wholly by the City and its associates. The City has been helped by City Parking, which is 100 percent owned by the Council and Rufaro Marketing which is also owned by the City.
“So, today we were going to present the stadium to the citizens of Harare and its stakeholders and say to them that the stadium, pending the adjustments that they were going to recommend, is now ready for use and we were going to agree with the PSL so that the final certification is done and then the games begin.
“We are going to enter into preliminary discussions with Dynamos and CAPS United for the leasing of the stadium. They have written letters to my office saying that they would require to use the stadium for 10 years, they would also want some shops and also to do certain activities like fun days at the venue so that we attract the sporting public. That is what we wanted to do,” said Mafume.